Netanyahu's "Fake News" Stunt Shows Why Iran Nuclear Deal Needs to Remain
May 4, 2018
Patrick Cockburn / The Independent & Francois Murphy / Reuters
The trove of Iranian documents about its nuclear programme presented by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as proof of Tehran's duplicity contain nothing of substance that was not known before. The vast cache of files presented .were largely historical and related to the period before 2003. Mr. Netanyahu was unable to find any evidence that Iran has breached the agreement signed in 2015. The UN's nuclear watchdog calls the Iran deal "the world's most robust verification regime."
Netanyahu's Performance Shows Why
Iran Nuclear Deal Needs to Remain
Patrick Cockburn / The Independent
(May 1, 2018) -- The trove of Iranian documents about its nuclear programme presented by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as proof of Tehran's duplicity contain nothing of substance that was not known before.
Though the disclosure was made in order to justify President Donald Trump torpedoing the Iran nuclear deal on 12 May, Mr. Netanyahu was unable to find any evidence that Iran has breached the agreement signed in 2015.
The vast cache of files presented [. . . ] are largely historical and relate to the period before 2003. Mr. Netanyahu's purpose was to pillory Iran for lying about a nuclear weapons programme 15 years ago and before.
The White House has had some difficulty in adjusting its rhetoric to the historical nature of the disclosures, saying at first that they were proof that "Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program", but later changing "has" to "had".
At issue is not the information in the archive, in which items introduced by Mr. Netanyahu as revelatory turn out to have been published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in a report in 2011.
More important is the political effect of their publication. Mr. Netanyahu's performance appears geared to provide justification for Mr. Trump bringing an end to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which is the lumbering official title of the Iran nuclear agreement.
By highlighting Iran's past ambitions to construct a nuclear device. Mr. Netanyahu unintentionally demonstrated -- as several architects of the 2015 deal have commented -- the need for the JCPOA, which made it impossible for Iran to build a nuclear weapon.
All the signatories of the agreement -- US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China -- agree that it is working well.
What remains unclear is what the US and Israel will do after 12 May. The reimposition of US sanctions on Iran will be damaging to its economy, but they are not going to lead to regime change in Tehran.
It is unlikely that Iranian leaders would agree to a new JCPOA which would be tilted further against them than the present deal. A successful counter-offensive against Iranian influence in the northern tier of the Middle East -- Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon -- is unlikely simply because of the strength of Iran's position there.
The policy objectives of the Trump administration towards Iran could only be achieved by a prolonged war, but the administration may not realise this.
The new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and the National Security Adviser, John Bolton, appear to take the advice of Iranian exile groups seriously, seeing the Iranian regime as more fragile than it is.
What makes the US withdrawal from the JCPOA so dangerous is that it is accompanied by an escalating military confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria.
This is likely to get more serious, provoking Iran and Russia to retaliate against Israel. In fact, Mr. Trump is stepping into the Syrian swamp in exactly the same way as previous US administrations have done in Iraq and Afghanistan
US Risks Reversing Iran Nuclear Deal's Inspection Gains
Francois Murphy / Reuters
VIENNA (May 3, 2018) -- The landmark 2015 nuclear deal Iran made with major world powers slashed the scope of Tehran's atomic activities and created what the United Nations nuclear watchdog calls "the world's most robust verification regime."
But US President Donald Trump, a long-time critic of the deal, has threatened to pull out unless a follow-on agreement is reached to fix what he calls the deal's "flaws."
Here is what a US withdrawal would likely mean for the UN's nuclear watchdog and its policing of Iran's nuclear activities.
A central aim of the agreement -- signed by the United States, Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain - was to ensure Iran would be at least a year away from amassing enough nuclear material for a bomb. The deal made Tehran, among other things, sharply cut the number of centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, it has in operation and slash its stock of enriched uranium.
It also imposes a strict limit on the purity Iran enriches uranium to, far below the level at which it could be used in atom bombs.
In signing the deal, Iran also agreed to comprehensive monitoring of its nuclear facilities and related sites by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency. That includes daily access by inspectors to and continuous monitoring, such as by camera feed, of its two underground enrichment sites at Natanz and Fordow.
The deal requires Iran to implement the UN nuclear watchdog's Additional Protocol, which provides inspectors with wide-ranging access to information on Iran's nuclear activities and the ability to inspect any site it deems necessary to verify that those activities are peaceful.
The deal -- officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA - requires Iran to grant long-term visas and provide proper working spaces to 130 to 150 designated UN nuclear inspectors.
ARE INSPECTIONS ANYTIME, ANYWHERE?
No. UN inspectors must present to Tehran their reason for wanting to visit a site that Iran has not declared as part of its nuclear program.
The UN nuclear watchdog does often conduct snap inspections. The head of the watchdog in March said that since the JCPOA has gone into effect the agency has carried out more than 60 so-called complementary access inspections. Many of those are done at short notice, diplomats familiar with the agency's work say.
The UN agency says it has had access to all the sites it has needed to visit and details of inspections are confidential. Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog say Iran is implementing its commitments under the deal.
WHAT HAPPENS IF TRUMP PULLS OUT?
If Trump does not renew waivers of US sanctions against Iran by May 12, as he has threatened to, it could unravel the deal by removing one of the main reasons Tehran signed up in the first place.
According to the text of the deal, Iran stated that if sanctions were reinstated it "will treat that as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part."
The three European signatories and the European Union, which also signed the deal, hope to keep the agreement alive even if the United States pulls out.
Iran's president has warned there would be "severe consequences" if Trump pulled out of the deal. But Iran has also discussed salvaging the deal.
If Iran pulled out of the deal completely, it would dramatically reduce the UN nuclear watchdog's ability to monitor the country's activities.
The UN agency says its presence in Iran in terms of inspectors' calendar days doubled to 3,000 in 2017 compared to 2013. It adds that its "verification activities conducted" have increased 152 percent over that time frame, without specifying total numbers.
UN inspectors would still monitor Iran's declared nuclear facilities because Tehran is a signatory to the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But, UN inspectors would no longer have daily access to the Fordow and Natanz sites, for example, and would have more limited oversight of areas including uranium mining and research without nuclear material.
Some Iranian officials have even threatened to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, a drastic move that would involve expelling UN inspectors altogether as North Korea did in 2009.
CUSHIONING THE BLOW
If Iran did pull out of the deal, the UN nuclear watchdog would hope that Tehran would continue to apply the protocol allowing it to retain much of its power to inspect any undeclared site it needs to.
There is a precedent for this, even though Iran has not ratified the Additional Protocol since it signed it in 2003: Iran implemented it temporarily from 2003 to 2006.
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